Individual Assignment

Compare and contrast two problem-solving methodologies, select one of these and apply it to a situation in your organisation. The latter should be written in a \'case study\' format

Introduction – What is a Problem?

In an individuals professional and social life, they will have objectives or desired outcomes that they aim to reach. These may be in preparing to take a family holiday or meeting a high sales target at work. During the course of attaining that goal they will encounter either an occurrence or obstacle that prevents the person achieving the desired aim or objective. This "circumstance" or "discrepancy" is a problem. It is preventing the individual from achieving their desired state of affairs in the manner that they had planned or had perceived it would be achieved.

The problem solving methodology that an organisation will choose to attempt to solve these problems will determine their strategy and general approach to problem solving. It will determine what tools and techniques they use to assist in their processes. The comparison between a hard systems approach to problem solving and a soft systems approach provides us with two very different outlooks and are based on differing fundamental assumptions on how human beings interact.

Hard Systems Thinking - Optimisation

In the years after the Second World War, when lessons from military operations were applied to industrial companies and Government agencies, an interest in systems ideas developed in many fields. This interest was signalled by the formation of the Society for General Systems Research in 1954, a group of people who were interested in applying systems thinking in traditional disciplines.

The basic principle that a hard system thinking emphasises is the use of quantification and measurement to understand systems. This strategy is intended to reduce the level of uncertainty that is associated with confronting problems and the possible options that are available to attempt to solve the problems. The core belief of hard systems approaches are that rationalisation and systematisation of problem-solving processes will lead to the best decisions being made.

Soft Systems Thinking – Appreciation

Soft systems thinking and the associated approaches to problem solving have developed primarily over the past two decades. The approaches are based on the belief that because individuals views are subjective experiences, there is no single reality. This means that individuals will view and interpret activities differently based on their own social, cultural and political experiences.

As people view situations differently, it is not possible to accurately define a problem and as a result, there is no opportunity to produce a perfect solution.

Soft systems thinking addresses organisational problem solving through the use of continuous learning and communication. These will increase an organisations\' capacity for problem solving. The fundamental aim is to create a Learning Organisation whose\' goals are not to solve problems instantly, but to consider problematic areas as the organisations\' members of awareness of the issues related to the areas broaden and deepen.

The Comparison between Hard and Soft Systems Problem Solving Methodologies

Hard systems approaches are characterised by the fundamental assumption that a definitive problem statement can identify the problem solving process. This clearly defined problem forms for foundation for all the subsequent structured steps. The end point of the process is to change the system in a way that eliminates the problem. Once a problem has been clearly identified, the process that follows focuses on identifying and evaluating alternative solutions.

By contrast, soft systems problem solvers believe there are no problems waiting to be solved because the problem is being enacted through an individuals conditioning and perception. As a result of this thinking they recognise that there are no permanent solutions, only improvements. These become a continuous series of on going improvements, which are regarded as accommodations.

A useful way of comparing the two methodologies is to consider two different models that have been developed that use the alternative principles as discussed above. N. K. Kwak and S. A. DeLurglo [1] have developed a seven stage problem solving process that is based on the principles of Operations Research (OR). OR is an application of hard systems thinking that uses different mathematical techniques to solve specific types of problems. It approaches problems by using the scientific method of inquiry. Peter Checkland\'s [2] soft system methodology as similarly a seven step sequential model. It is an example of a